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Lead image

How to choose the best turntable

Get the right vinyl record player for your needs

I've hauled a heavy crate of records across the country from house to house for more than two decades. Why? Because I treasure the warmth and detail of the classic albums I've collected over the years. But I'm not just archiving — I find and purchase new favorite albums all the time.

Whether you’re new to the vinyl game, or an experienced collector in search of an upgrade, this article will give you the knowledge you need to make the right choice when buying a turntable.

the author at home playing records

What is a turntable?

Every turntable does two very important things. First, it provides a stable platform that spins records at a constant rate of speed. Second, it allows a needle to track through the record groove and “read” the recorded information. Beyond that, there’s a lot of variation in materials and construction that can make a difference in how it sounds.

What do you get when you spend more?

If you’re going to invest in records to get great analog sound, you should play them on something better than a trendy all-in-one record player bought at a clothing store. Build quality and materials make all the difference when choosing a turntable. This list points out key features that make one turntable sound better than another.

Good (typically under $400)

  • aluminum platter and tonearm
  • some plastic body parts
  • automatic operation
  • entry-level cartridge
  • built-in preamp

Better ($400-$800)

  • carbon fiber tonearm
  • steel or acrylic platter
  • manual operation
  • medium-quality cartridge
  • heavy plinth (base)

Best ($800 and above)

  • exotic, sometimes trademarked materials in platter, bearings, and other parts
  • high-end cartridge
  • advanced engineering of tonearm assembly, plinth, wiring, etc.
  • no built-in preamp

If you need some explanation of these parts and features, just keep reading!

Key parts of a turntable

exploded diagram of turntable

A. Platter — The record sits on top of this (hopefully with a good mat in place).

B. Spindle and bearing — ensures smooth, quiet platter rotation.

C. Motor and pulley — Only found in a belt-drive turntable, this provides the torque that turns the platter.

D. Tonearm — Made from strong, lightweight materials like aluminum or carbon fiber, it tracks record grooves with high accuracy.

E. Cartridge — The coil and magnets inside turn the kinetic energy from the record groove into electrical signals.

F. Plinth — Provides a stable, resonance-free base for the moving parts.

G. Feet — Absorb vibrations, so the turntable doesn't pick up skip-inducing rumble from speakers or movement in the room.

Important features

On casual examination, most turntables look pretty similar. Let's "peek under the hood" to pick out some key features you may want to look out for.

Turntable direct-drive assembly diagram

This image shows the intricate construction of a high-end direct drive motor used by Technics.

Belt drive vs. direct drive

This tells you how the motor is connected to the platter, and why that matters.

Direct-drive turntables offer extremely precise platter rotation, which reduces or eliminates "wow and flutter." They also get up to speed almost instantly, and the platter spins free of resistance when the motor is turned off. The latter qualities make them very popular with professional DJs.

On a belt-driven table, an elastic band connected to the motor turns the platter. Devotees of belt-drive believe this decoupling reduces motor noise, and may help bring out more nuance from a recording.

Both drive styles have big fans in the audiophile realm. It's really a matter of personal preference at the end of the day.

close-up on photo cartridge

A phono cartridge turns the kinetic energy from a record groove into electrical signals.

Cartridge

Most turntables come with a cartridge pre-mounted on the tonearm. The cartridge contains the stylus — which most of us casually refer to as a "needle" or "pickup" — that reads the record's grooves and produces sound. The provided cartridge is usually a good entry-level choice, but many music lovers prefer to upgrade to get even stronger performance.

Silver Phone Preamp

An external phono preamp boosts the tiny signal generated by your turntable so your main amplifier can turn it into audible output.

Phono preamp

The initial signal produced by the cartridge is very precise, but also very weak. That's why your turntable needs to feed into a phono preamplifier to get to a level that can make music come out of your speakers. The phono preamp can be built into the 'table, built into a receiver, built into a powered speaker, or housed in a separate component.

An outboard preamp does add a piece of gear to your cabinet, but if you're using a top-notch cartridge, this level of detailed control helps you get the most out of your investment. It will often give you the option to choose whether you want to use a moving magnet or moving coil cartridge.

To learn more, read our phono preamp buying guide.

Manual vs. automated

This feature lets you know how much you'll have to interact with your turntable as it begins and ends playing a record.

Manual: With the help of a manual lever, you physically lift the tonearm and place the needle in the record's lead groove and lift it off at the end of a side. An automated mechanism can introduce noise, so manual operation is standard for those who care more about sound quality than convenience.

Semi-automatic: You get things started by manually lowering the tonearm. When the record is done, the turntable returns the tonearm and shuts off the motor. You don’t have to worry about the stylus bumping around in the end of the groove while you're up to your elbows in a task.

Close up of turntable controls

This fully automatic turntable automatically puts the needle on the record, plays a side, then returns the tonearm to its rest and shuts off.

Fully automatic: With a fully automatic turntable, you push a button and walk away. The tonearm moves into position and gently drops the needle onto the leading edge of the record. When the last song is over, the tonearm lifts itself up, returns to its resting position, and shuts off the motor.

turntable output panel

This turntable has a built-in phono preamp and a USB output for connecting to a computer to digitize analog albums.

USB output

You buy a turntable because you value analog sound. But some 'tables have a feature that lets you create digital copies of your favorite albums so you can preserve them, and take the music with you when you leave the house. If that sounds good to you, look for a turntable with a USB output.

Important specs

Looking at pictures of a turntable won’t tell you much about how it performs relative to other models. Manufacturers use some esoteric-sounding specs to help you make comparisons, so let's figure out what each one means.

Signal-to-noise ratio: Measures how much background noise you can hear. A higher number is better here because you want a lot more music signal than noise. Look for something above 65dB.

Playback speeds: Most turntables give you 33-1/3 and 45 RPM capability. If you purchase a ‘table for spinning 78s, it can handle modern "microgroove" pressings, but not older vintage recordings. Make sure you get a specialized cartridge that’s equipped to handle the wider grooves of these increasingly rare records.

Wow and flutter: This spec tells you how accurately the turntable spins the platter. Too much deviation can cause an audible wavering effect. A lower number is better here, ideally below 0.25%.

Next steps

Once you've bought a turntable, you may get the itch to start tweaking it to make it sound even better. Check out our 

Pairing a turntable with speakers

The traditional — and still very popular — way of hearing sound from a record is to connect the preamp output to a receiver with phono input or a preprocessor/power amplifier combo, and listen through a pair of tower or bookshelf speakers. This kind of setup provides superior results, but it can be costly and take up a lot of space.

speaker on shelf with turntable

A powered stereo speaker with built-in phono stage like the Kanto SYD offers a space-saving option for record lovers.

As an apartment dweller myself, I've enjoyed pairing my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with a pair of Klipsch Reference R-41PM powered stereo speakers. The speakers have the connections I need, and a built-in power supply, so I don't need to make room for any other components. Powered speaker manufacturers often build in a phono preamp as a nod to us vinyl lovers.

Some manufacturers are adding built-in wireless functionality for added flexibility. The popular Audio-Technica LP-60XBT (and others) feature convenient Bluetooth® output. Yamaha's TT-N503 turntable has MusicCast built in, which lets you put your turntable anywhere you like, and wirelessly broadcast music to compatible speakers throughout your entire home.

Next steps

Once you've got a nice setup, you'll probably start feeling an irresistible urge to start tweaking details to make it sound even better. Don't worry, this is very normal. Read 8 Tips for Getting Better Sound from your Turntable to get an idea where to start.

Need help?

You may want some help choosing a turntable and matching it to components like preamps, receivers, and speakers. One of our expert Advisors can talk to you about what gear you have, and what you might need to add. They're knowledgeable, friendly, and they love music as much as you do. Contact us today.

And don't hesitate to call us if you hit a snag during the install process. Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

  • Jason Todd Gonzalez from SAN ANTONIO

    Posted on 9/23/2021

    Some time ago I was able to sample cd's from my own collection on the Bowers and Wilkins 705 S2 in a show room and completely blown away! Since then, I knew those were the speakers I wanted. But my problem now is finding and paring the best Stereo receiver, CD, phono and Cassette deck but without over breaking the bank. I've watched many videos on comparisons and audio advice but still feel at a loss of where to begin. I feel at this point I could go with almost anything but, knowing myself, would feel better about my investment but seriously don't know much about all the technical aspects...Any suggestions.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/23/2021

    Jason - I'm not sure I can fully answer this question in a comment, because it takes a bit of back-and-forth to narrow down the options (which our Advisors excel at). The very first thing I'd consider, however, is choosing a receiver/integrated amp that has enough clean power to drive those speakers the way they need to be driven. And then I'd make sure it has the inputs you need to connect the other stuff and work from there. But I'd highly recommend contacting us via phone or chat to properly build out a system. Thanks for the question!
  • Lester from Redditch

    Posted on 5/27/2021

    Thanks for the information easy to understand plain English very impressed. Just purchased a old Technics SL 1500 that has gone for a full service and some new Cambridge audio speakers so was looking for a amp that will work well.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/28/2021

    Lester - I'd recommend an integrated amp with decent power and a phono input. I like that you've already got some Cambridge in the system, because that's where I'm leaning for a recommendation. The AXA35 is a good budget option, but if you want to get more power and features, the Evo 150 can't be beat. Hope this helps!
  • Kevin white from New bedford ma

    Posted on 5/24/2021

    Im looking for a cartridge for my old record player, the player is a ( 1984- 1985 ) technics , Quartz, direct drive automatic turntable system SL- QD 22, The original needle broke off so I had to replace it with a RadioShack cartridge rx-1600 , would you happen to know the original cartridge that goes on this one or a One that is equal to the RadioShack one? I'm just looking for a replacement cartridge. Thank you for any help that you can give.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/25/2021

    Kevin - I don't have any first-hand knowledge of this turntable, but I did a little research and it looks like it features a P-mount cartridge. Audio-Technica sells one called the AT81CP (which we do not carry) and they also sell an adapter that allows you to use 1/2-inch mount cartridges with a P-mount tonearm. Wish we had something on our site I could point you toward, but hopefully you can get what you need directly from A-T.
  • RT from Virginia Beach

    Posted on 12/9/2020

    I noticed you discontinued the TEAC TN-280BT turntable. Do you have another suggestion with a good price point. Bluetooth if possible. Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 12/10/2020

    RT - The Sony PS-LX310BT has the features you like, and it's a top seller for that reason. It's temporarily out of stock, but we expect more on 12/21/20, so it might be a good idea to put in an order now so it will ship as soon as they arrive in the warehouse. Thanks for the question!
  • Vincenzo John Loffredo from League City

    Posted on 10/13/2020

    Hi Eric, Probably not the most popular question but i really want a record player with a cd player to play all of my fathers old records and CD's, with this I would like to get a nice speaker system to get that classic sound, I saw a lot for under the $200 range on Amazon, do you have any recommendations or advice in my search? would like to stay in that budget which I know may not help with my wants/needs.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 10/14/2020

    Vincenzo - I'm afraid we don't carry any combo units like that, so I don't have any hands-on experience with them. If I had to guess, I'd say a system at that price point may not have great sound quality and may not last as long as you'd prefer, but I understand the necessity of buying on a budget. Good luck in your search, and please keep us in mind if you decide to go with separate components at some point.
  • Arnita Townsend from Flossmoor

    Posted on 10/12/2020

    Hello, I have an Old Pioneer Quartz-PLL Full-Automatic PL-930. If at all possible I would like to give this old machine another try. I need to replace the needle but don't know what needle I should replace it with and I don't know if it something universal I can use. The needle have the 2-screws on top and 4-prongs for connection. Don't know if I am wishfully thinking or if it's possible for me to give this baby a spin again. Your help is most appreciated!!!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 10/12/2020

    Arnita - I'll admit I don't have any direct experience with that turntable, but it sounds like it should be compatible with the headshells we carry. If you want to experiment without investing too much, I'd try the Audio Technica VM520EB-H phono cartridge on headshell. Thanks for the question!
  • Scott Fallick from Saugatuck

    Posted on 9/18/2020

    As a vinyl fan I always adding knowledge about stereo equipment. Maybe some info for us that have pretty good equipment, but what we can do to make it better. Preamp? New cartridge? Etc.. thank you

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/21/2020

    Scott - I couldn't be happier that you asked this question today. I literally just finished this article: 8 Tips for Getting Better Sound from your Turntable. I hope it helps!
  • Anthony Ollmann from Los Angeles

    Posted on 8/31/2020

    hi! I have currently just purchased the klipsch heresy iv speakers. I am looking to upgrade my turntable. I currently have the project debut carbon with ortofon blue cartridge. I listen to a lot of Jazz. Any recommendations to pair with these speakers?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/1/2020

    Hi, Anthony - Those are some serious speakers. Personally, I'd pair them with the best turntable we carry, the Mobile Fidelity UltraDeck +M, with the matching UltraPhono preamp, which will allow you to dial in the perfect sound. Give us a call, chat, or email if you want to get more in depth!
  • James Zotynia from Henryville, Pa 18332

    Posted on 7/15/2020

    I have a Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB, with a built in preamp, please correct if I'm wrong. I have hooked it up the ways they recommended and absolutely no punch. I have to turn up the volume quite a bit to listen. Can a Pro-Ject preamp also be used to increase the sound from the phono. Thanks James Zotynia

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/16/2020

    James - You certainly can turn the built-in preamp off and use a more effective outboard Pro-Ject model, but I'm concerned about the fact that you're not happy with the basic function of the one built into the Audio-Technica turntable. If you got that from us, it's worth checking in with tech support to find out if it's functioning properly and configured right before taking the next step. Hope that helps!
  • Linnéa from Rochester

    Posted on 7/5/2020

    I'm thinking of buying a turntable for my friend's birthday. We both love old Frank Sinatra songs, and we both write music, so I want it to be something that sounds good but not too expensive. I don't know anything about vinyls or turntables. Do you have any suggestions?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/6/2020

    Linnea - Thanks for the question. The TEAC TN-280BT is my pick for a good budget player. It has a built-in phono preamp so you won't have to get a separate one, and I think the wood finish provides such a classic look, which I love. It's on sale right now, so it checks all of the boxes as far as I'm concerned. Hope you and your friend have a great time listening to records in the future!